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Posted Apr 29th, 2015 (8:00 am) by Matt Felten
Hellberg
Image by Monstercat

One of Monstercat's finest, Stockholm-based producer Hellberg has come a long way from performing one-man shows for his family on makeshift instruments. Releasing his well-received debut EP This Is Me on April 15, Hellberg's relentless innovation and unwavering dedication to his craft shines through his musical creations and continues to gain him recognition in the industry.

Recently undergoing surgery for a non-life-threatening ailment, Hellberg was forced to take some time off from music making and the Stockholm music scene. Although seemingly unfortunate at the time, this breath of fresh air was just what Hellberg needed. He was able to reflect upon his art, direction, and musical goals without the pressure of the studio environment. We recently had the opportunity to talk with Hellberg about this newfound direction, inspiration, and the body of work that was born from the union of the two, This Is Me.

What did you do after surgery if you weren't making music?

Well basically I was just staying at home at my mom's house, because she was helping me out with everything. Mostly I was just in bed, not doing much, playing some video games, and eventually I got tired of it and just wanted to make some music. So I picked up my laptop and started trying out stuff that I usually didn't do in the studio, just experimenting basically.

This Is Me has this emotional grounding that a lot of other happy-go-lucky EDM lacks. Where do you think this emotion came from?

I don't know, I've always really appreciated emotion in music, especially mixed with the happy side of music. I love happy music, you know, I'm not ashamed to admit that I really like pop music and stuff like that. I guess I just really like the emotion and the happiness mixed with a dramatic touch.

The vocals on the EP certainly added to that emotional energy as well.

Oh yeah, definitely.

What inspired your choice of vocalists for the EP?

Well, the vocalists that I work with are Cozi [Zuehlsdorff] and Jessarae, both very talented singers and songwriters. I got in contact with them through this songwriter that I'm working a lot with who works in L.A. His name is Joanne, and he's working with a guy called Scott, and they basically write all my top lines. They wrote “I'm Not Over,” a previous single of mine, they wrote “The Girl” and “Wasted Summer,” and they work with me as well as these amazing vocalists for their solo projects. So they were like, “hey we can set you up with these amazing people,” and they did.

Is there a girl behind “The Girl,” or does the song hold a more abstract meaning?

It's more abstract from what I got, Cozi explained it to me a bit. It's based on a greek mythological character called Pygmalion. I guess it's like a riff on that story. I don't really know how they came up with that, but it's pretty crazy. People ask me what it's about all the time.

What's your personal favorite off the EP and why?

Probably “A Heartbeat Away,” the first track off the EP. Mostly because it has that awesome dramatic feel that I love. The vocals on that are amazing and I love that, like, desperate tone in the vocals. And it's just so dramatic.

Where did you do most of the work for the EP and do you think the location had any affect on the music?

I'm always working out of Stockholm in this studio where I am now, I've been here for a few months. But I don't know, I guess so, I wrote this during the winter and, you know, that's not fun. It's really boring and just snow everywhere, and Swedes tend to get really agitated and angry at people, and just really sour with everyone during the winter. I definitely get a lot more inspiration from the location when it starts to get hot and sunny outside, like today is wonderful.

Where else do you go to look for inspiration?

Other artists, I get a lot of inspiration from what other producers are doing, not just in house or EDM, but other genres as well. I also find a lot of inspiration in other forms of art, like images, paintings, and stuff like that. I often go to DeviantArt, which is this place where people can upload their art, paintings, photography, whatever, and they have some amazing people doing awesome stuff. For example a guy just putting up like ten pieces of art with the city that he's drawn, different buildings and parts of the city, and that's such a big inspiration, like I want to make the soundtrack for his work. So that's an awesome inspiration source.

What was your creative process for This Is Me?

I wanted to do something different, something fresh. I named all my project files some synonym of fresh, because that's what I really wanted to do. I also wanted to do something that was happy, and still had the same progressive house-ness that my previous stuff had, but mostly something that was new, something that I really gravitated towards, and not something that other people had already done. I wanted to do something that I felt was a lot of myself.

Why Should people care about this project?

It's something that EDM has been missing, especially in the States. I guess now trap is the big thing, and previously it's been like big room, and now deep house, but I miss - and I'm gonna sound like I'm really old right now - but I miss like five years ago man. When everything was so new, all the melodies that came out, and it was just so cool to be in the scene back then. Everything was just growing and growing and you could go and educate people about house. Now you can't do that in Sweden, everyone knows about it already. But back then you could be like “Have you seen this?” and they would be like “Holy shit! we've never heard something like this before.” And I miss both the sound from those years, as well as the feeling of being part of the scene. I think I've really gotten inspired by that era, I guess, like that 2009 to 2011 Swedish sound. I wanted to take those chords and those melodies and bring it into something that was new, and fresh, and something that could make the style be popular again in the states, and everywhere I guess. I mean in Sweden, House is still the thing, nobody listens to trap in Sweden, which is weird.

Do you think the scene will start to gravitate towards trap?

The thing is, in the States hip hop has always been so big, and trap is so similar to hip hop that it's kinda of easier I guess, trap didn't have a hard time being popular. Once it was invented, it became popular instantly. But in Sweden, if you check the Spotify top 100 list, not one rap song is going to be on there if it's not Swedish. Which is pretty crazy. Like, when Drake's album dropped he had like 6 tracks on the U.S. Spotify Top 100 list, and not one was in the Swedish Top 100 list [laughs]. We're not the biggest fans of hip hop. I don't know, I mean I love playing trap mixed with house, and I love Aero Chord, a label friend of mine. But I don't know, I guess it's just a culture thing.

Speaking of the label, why did you choose Monstercat over others?

Well, in the early days, for me it was just such a big platform. They were not at all as big as they are now obviously, but they were much bigger than I was. I had no following, I didn't have a page, I hadn't even picked my name yet. But they were interested in my productions, even though I didn't have a finished name I still put my stuff up on Youtube, and through connections I got in touch with them and showed them some stuff and they were pretty interested to start working together. And they just seemed so cool, and like, not at all like other labels. They were really kind to the artists, and really transparent with all the royalties and how they were working and everything. But it's been really cool to be a part of their journey, and I'm excited to see what's next for both the label and myself, and us together.

On that note, what's next for Hellberg? What can your fans expect out of 2015?

A lot of remixes, I hope. Now that I've done the EP and feel like I've kind of showed people what my new “thing” is I guess, I'm going to focus on some collaborations in the next upcoming months, some remixes, and hopefully putting out a single every now and then. I'm not going to stop doing that just because I put up an EP. I'm gonna still put up some original tunes, because that's what I really love to do. But I'm gonna focus on remixes and collaborations. I'm working with some awesome dudes right now who are doing great stuff, so I'm looking forward to that.

If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life what would it be?

Wow, that's such a hard question [laughs]. I think the song that changed me the most musically, like when I was making some dubstep, and making some house, and didn't know what I really wanted to do, was definitely “Levels.” Which is such a typical answer for a prog-house guy, but that track had such a big impact on everyone in the scene. So that's a top contender. But all the Alesso tracks like “Calling” and “Nillionaire” and stuff like that is also up there. If I had to give you a definitive answer though, probably “Language” by Porter Robinson.

And what would be the most memorable song from your childhood?

“Say My Name” by Destiny's Child. Definitely. I'm changing my answer from “Language” to that. I was such a huge Destiny's Child fan, and “Say My Name” is in my opinion their best track. Again, I'm not afraid to say that I'm a sucker for a good pop track!

Hellberg's 5-track EP This Is Me is available now on iTunes. Click here to purchase, stream the EP on SoundCloud, and stay tuned for future coverage of Hellberg on IYS!

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